Tampa Bay Buccaneers Taking a position by position look at the Buccaneers heading into the 2021 season, continuing with the offensive line. Carmen Vitali
Position Group: Offensive Line
Players (as of Feb. 7): Donovan Smith, Josh Wells, Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, Aaron Stinnie, Tristan Wirfs, Joe Haeg, Ted Larsen, Alex Cappa (IR), A.Q. Shipley (IR)
2020 Evaluation: The Buccaneers' offensive line remained remarkably consistent throughout the season even with guys like left guard Ali Marpet missing time and then right guard Alex Cappa suffering a postseason injury against Washington that kept him out the rest of the way. The line took so many strides from the prior year and did everything the Bucs' offense and new quarterback Tom Brady needed them to. They finished the season tied for the fourth-fewest sacks allowed, giving up a total of 48.0 through 16 games. Brady was sacked on just 3.51% of his pass attempts, which was the second-best rate in the league. Brady also had five games in the 2020 regular season where he wasn't sacked once - that ties the Bucs with the Cleveland Browns for most games without allowing a sack this year.
When it came time for the postseason the line then kicked into another gear. After allowing for an average of 94.9 yards on the ground in the regular season, in the playoffs the Bucs averaged 122.5 rushing yards per game. Going into the postseason, the Bucs had the fourth-best passing offense, averaging 298.5 yards per game through the air and kept that consistency as soon as the Wildcard round hit. By the time the postseason was over and done with, the Bucs had climbed to the top ranking in pass yards per play, with an average of 7.42.
None of that happens without the line excelling in both pass and run-blocking and getting better as the season went on. One individual pillar was center Ryan Jensen, who provided a consistent anchor and leader in the middle of the line. Jensen has now recorded 64 consecutive starts, which ties Cleveland's J.C. Tretter for the second-most among centers.
And where you had a veteran presence in the middle, on the end, you had one of this year's breakout stars in right tackle Tristan Wirfs. The Bucs traded up one spot in the 2020 NFL Draft to nab the Iowa product at 13 overall. Wirfs ended up being worth that and then some, as he gave up just one sack on 1,352 snaps in the regular season. He gave up just eight quarterback hits too and earned an overall grade of 82.2 from PFF.
2021 Outlook: Four linemen from the 2020 roster are due to be free agents, though the Buccaneers have all their starters locked in for 2021. Guard Aaron Stinnie, who started in place of Alex Cappa once he got hurt in the postseason, is one of those players. Stinnie came in against New Orleans and started the next three games, including the Super Bowl. He was originally claimed off waivers in 2019 and has bounced on and off the Bucs' practice squad, serving as a rotational player. How much his postseason heroics influence whether or not the Bucs retain him will be interesting to see.
Wells and Haeg were both used as backups and both were brought in on jumbo packages and max=protect situations throughout the season, where the Bucs needed extra blockers. They could be retained for depth. Shipley moved into a coaching role with the team following an injury during the Rams Monday Night Football game at home. He had been part of the solution for Marpet's absence as he dealt with a concussion for a few games. Marpet was able to return the following game and Shipley went on injured reserve and into his role as a coach under Arians.
Jensen, Smith and Cappa have contracts that expire next season but they're locked in for now. Marpet's contract isn't up until 2024 after he signed an extension last offseason. Wirfs will be on his rookie deal until 2025, provided the Bucs pick up his fifth-year option. Essentially, Tampa Bay is in the exact spot they want to be in with the offensive line and that is to keep it as consistent as possible. These guys now have a year working with Brady in this offense under their belt and the unit likely won't see significant changes for 2021.